“What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.”

- Crowfoot

Saturday, January 14, 2012


Geez, post titles are difficult to come up with!

Considering I have been slacking most of the week, I will go through the rest of my week day by day.

Today I was placed with the two community health/public health nurses at the health centre here. One is employed by the government and one is employed by the band council. This gave me much greater insight into the community and its demographics. While there wasn't an excess of activity during the morning, it gave me a great opportunity to talk with the nurses about the community and the programs they run to try and assist. An example would be the food security program. Given the exorbitant price of food here and given that many members of the community are on limited budgets, food affordability is a huge issue! With a person living on welfare receiving approximately $650 a month (no matter the amount of children) and with heating/electricity bills taking up much of that money, it is very difficult for many to purchase food period, much less healthy food. No wonder there is such an epidemic of obesity and diabetes up here! For those wondering why people are on welfare, there simply are not enough jobs in the community for the number of people that need them...

That afternoon, I was invited to go with one of the nurses to the local school to help prepare for the funeral of well-loved local elder. The tradition surrounding funerals here is absolutely amazing. After every funeral, there is a feast. This is what it is called. Volunteers cook a huge amount of food and when the family and friends return from the graveside the food is served.

But there is a catch. [Adults, you are permitted to salivate.] The first people who get there food from the buffet are the elders. But they don't have to get there own food. The young people (typically grandkids) come and get the plates of food for them and serve them at their seats!

At this particular funeral, there must have been over 200 people and while the young people were getting food for the elders, the man at the microphone was leading everyone in goose calls. You see, the elder who had died was one of the best hunters in town and you couldn't tell his goose call from the real thing. So, with family that stretched to Attawapiskat and Kashechewan, the man speaking at the microphone got everyone from each place to do a goose call while dinner was being served. It was a real treat to listen to!

On Wednesday I began going around with the home care nurse. Normally she is provided a vehicle by the health centre, but it is currently awaiting repair (apparently, it can only go in reverse!). So, yes, we had to walk all around town for visits! I was wearing long johns, yoga pants, snow pants, my big Sorel boots, a thin and a thick pair of socks, my shirt, a sweater, my jacket, a balaclava over my nose, toque, mittens, and my hood and was only JUST comfortable!

It was very interesting walking around town. I was able to kind of get the lay of the land and figure out where everything was in relation to everything else.

Thursday (Yesterday)
Again, spent the day with the home care nurse. At noon, however, we attended a meeting at the school about housing. The presenters were from a new-ish company called Aduvo Inc. But they build homes within shipping containers. Apparently all the shipping containers that bring everything from China (and Thailand and India and wherever) are just left here because it costs to much for them to be shipped back empty. They are completely sealed and have built in rust protection. Apparently, for insurance purposes, they are built to protect whatever is being shipped and make it as easy to recover as possible if they fall off a ship, for instance. These containers actually float just below the water and will open up the bottom of a small vessel like a can opener. You can bolt many together and make whatever shape that you want. And they are made to be shipped by rail etc, so they are easy to transport. If they get sent up here, they can be shipped ready to move in and can be filled with items for the community so that the shipping costs are reduced (which goes back to food security again!). However there was also talk about the fact that, if this goes ahead, possibly sending the containers up with all the unassembled parts in the box (kind of like IKEA furniture). Then the company provides local adults and young people with the training in the trades to be able to put together all the parts. Plus there would also be jobs leveling off the ground and putting down the gravel that is a necessary foundation.

There are several reasons houses here deteriorate so fast:

a) Frost Heaving

This is a concept I first heard about on Thursday. When the ground freezes, so does the moisture within it. And we all know what happens when water freezes - it expands (sometimes with disastrous results like this or this). Here, it can wreak even more disastrous consequences. When the ground expands, the house on top shifts with it. But it doesn't all move together or in one direction. This causes the already often poorly built homes (some contractors seem to think they can cut corners building on reserve) to be put under tremendous strain. Joints and nails move and come apart and shift. This causes extreme wear.

b) Mould

Because of the vast difference in outside vs inside temperatures, the moisture point is hidden within the walls of homes and trailers on reserve. Because of this moisture, there are huge problems with mould. Often members of the community develop acute or chronic fungal infections and rashes from the mould contamination in their homes.

It inspired a great deal of hope to see a potential solution to these problems as well as people willing to work with the community to bring the potential for increased prosperity and independence. Not to mention, because of the materials and the methods for shipping, a container house with up to 3 bedrooms costs anywhere from $50 000-$100 000 less than the average cost to build a home here (approx $250 000, for a very basic structure that is not much better than a double wide).

Later that day, I helped to prepare for another funeral (it is very odd for the community to have two funerals so close together). Again, the younger people served food to the elders before they ate themselves.

After the funeral I was invited to the house of a local family with the people who were there about the houses (and who also stayed to help prepare the feast for the funeral) and the public health nurse. I am awaiting an email from one of the presenters who was taking a lot of pictures of the house. This house was the most amazing house I have ever seen. Built on the very edge of town, it is a log cabin with books and pictures everywhere and so cozy and rustic with a closed fireplace in the centre of the building heating the entire place. There was a loft upstairs with the couple's bedroom.

It is funny, because the lady of the house is originally from the south but came up here decades ago (I believe in the late 60s or early 70s) to teach, met her now husband who is a local Cree man, and never went back! They now have three children together and (as I said before) the loveliest house!

Normally, I wouldn't bother sharing something as mundane as what we ate - BUT (and Linda, Kevin and the girls will get a kick out of this) dinner was moose and caribou! The caribou tasted absolutely amazing and the moose was pretty good as well. I think I may just be a convert! (have any left Kevin? =P)

Friday (Today)
Today I was with the home care nurse again. However, during the morning, we attended rounds at the hospital (ie. meeting). To give you another idea about the size of the hospital: all the nurses and RPNs were at this meeting and could fit (somewhat uncomfortably) around a small boardroom table. Afterwards, there was a potluck for one of the nurses who is going on maternity leave. Her and her family moved up here a few years ago, but they have to move back down south on Monday until the baby comes (no one wants to give birth up here!).


So, for next week, I will being working at the hospital on Wednesday. And NO SHIFT WORK FOR ME! I am placed with a nurse who works solely in the clinic which is open from 9-5 each day. My first day I don't have to be until 10am. Ahhhh, I could get used to this!

Until next time!

1 comment:

  1. An easy solution for titles could be just the day of the month, for example Jan 9 - 13? We've had one of our first "cold weather alerts" in the GTA area - the high for the day is going to be -15 or so! I guess you lot up there would consider that almost balmy!

    I am enjoying the blog, please keep it up.